What do you do when emotions become physical, when there is a symptom? My limited understanding of Lacan suggests there will always be a symptom due to the nature of jouissance, but I've never liked resigning myself to a fate. I also highly rate my ability to manipulate my own emotions and so it goes against my constitution to accept defeat in such a way. Managing myself is my forte.
The sensation I’ve been burdened with is a tightness in the sternum – a common symptom of anxiety. In Japanese lore kanashibari (or sleep paralysis) is caused by a spirit sitting on your chest. This is happening in the day, where I can’t quite expand my lungs enough due to some pressing weight. But whenever I try and sit through the feeling, I realise it’s an internal sensation, where the fingers of my ribcage all amass in the sternum, trying to clasp each other. Last time I felt like this it was the night of the election. It’s definitely an anxious symptom.
Some remedies then; if this is a tightness, something muscular, then stretching would be prescribed. If this metaphor is to be trusted, and extrapolated, what is the muscle in this situation? What is the psychological tissue that is too tight? Perhaps it is my sense of responsibility. This is not painful or uncomfortable in itself, just as muscles aren’t naturally tight, but tissue damage is always noticeable in times of exertion. How to solve the problem? First: know what it’s worth training the muscle for. When I first wrote this, my anxiety was regarding a really unimportant problem, something that was easily resolved. Not worth the discomfort. But being politically responsible and an active humanist is something actually worth expending energy for, and so tactical use becomes important. Worth feeling responsible for. Learning these differences is like stretching, and is incredibly useful for providing short-term relief. Second: working through the pain, pushing the muscle a little bit, can help to warm it up and improve flow. Flows help clear blockages, helps to drain toxins and oxygenate areas. While psychological blockages aren’t necessarily cured by physiological manipulations, this analogy works to clarify the importance of action. In acting, in being active, you work to manipulate the environment which caused the tension, and so remove the external blockages which leads to that psychological state. This of course isn’t always easy, but for now my metaphor has a good amount of cohesion. I think.
Done. Muscle stretched. Resting, lethargy, is problematic. Allowing muscles to tighten is always going to cause discomfort.
Why would responsibility be the muscle to grow tight in the first place? Everyone has a weak spot. My quads are my strongest but also my tightest muscles. The weakness of strength theory supports this: strength leads to tightness and that produces muscle imbalances, stitches, inflexibility. Symptoms, basically. My sense of responsibility is one of my strongest psychological muscles. Its pistons drive me forwards, like my quads force power down onto the pedals of my bike. Forwards, ever forwards. The movements remain the same. All that power in a fixed range of motion increases the muscles’ ability for that motion but fixes it into patterns. Makes it weak in others. Habitual thoughts also become strengthened. And they become self-perpetuating. Deviating from these mental patterns are difficult. Guilt, and feelings of guilt, become normal. This is not a negative thing: seen as a symptom and not as a condition allows it to be massaged out. It is a reminder to do some stretching, to improve your flexibility. To improve. Surpass. Without stretching, movement can be excruciating and limited. You could be corseted in to your own body, stiff and unmoving. Responsibilities outside of my comfort zone would not be dealt with, I would be apathetic and disengaged from the socio-political sphere, which is actually the most important thing I can care about as it transcends my own silly little problems of politeness. Without stretching I’m no more than a snail, carrying my walls around with me. With stretching I am becoming a little more engaged every day. Surpassing that conservative upbringing that had shaped me for years.
I often get phantom cramps in my quads. And sometimes general feelings of anxiety and guilt emerge. These are a sign of some larger strain. To deal with this I must remove myself from the exertion that is placing a toll on me. I take myself out of the social sphere. Sometimes this backfires: old embarrassments shout at me from the walls of my isolation. But sometimes absence is necessary. It’s a rest period. It gives me the recovery needed to then further train, to continue to improve.
None of this explains why guilt is the symptom. While the strength in my legs explains the tightness, it doesn’t explain its own origin – why are my quads the strongest part of my legs? As unforgiving an answer as it is, the answer is probably because they are the most likely to be strongest for me– in a similar way to quantum physics explanation of the movement of heat. It moves the way it does because is it most probable. So why is guilt the symptom of a psychological weight? If the whole of my psyche is under a strain, why is responsibility the first mental muscle to knot? In this case, I could argue the cause of the symptom isn’t that I have been irresponsible and therefore am feeling guilty because I am at fault, but rather the whole system is under strain and that is manifesting via my sense of responsibility. This isn’t to undermine those feelings – they are legitimate and should be acted on. But they could just as easily manifest in irritation, or sadness, or hatred. I’m incredibly fortunate that they manifest in a way which means that my own agency can alleviate some of the pain. I am sad for those whose symptom is something more dangerous and self-fulfilling. Spot healing the problem – just stretching the quads — doesn’t work. For those whose symptom is something worse, maybe looking for the cause of finite anger isn’t helpful. Perhaps theres something larger (read: systematic) that fosters negative feelings? Dealing with the systems then, would be a much smarter remedy.
In the manner of a very sketchy conclusion, to this horribly self-involved post, I can pinpoint certain environments that cause me to fall into this anxious space. Firstly: taking too much on and spreading myself too thin with my practice and its outcomes exhausts me. Then I give myself a hard time for running out of steam and taking a rest period. Resting is uncomfortable for me, I’m too hung up on productivity. But it’s important to rest – it rejuvenates: muscles only grow during rest. It’s been a year now since I left university and I should take a recovery period now and then.
Secondly: in periods where I feel too much admiration for people, I get confused and lose my sense of self. My internal compass gets knocked, and I stray from my natural path. This rerouting can be useful – sometimes it’s a shortcut to a better me. But often it’s a shortcut up a very steep hill which further stresses the system. Reorienting myself afterwards takes a little time. I have to patch together these two people -the one I was before and the one I was trying to be to them- and form a new self. This takes more energy than I care to admit, as I don’t want to be indoctrinated, something I succumb to far too easily. I have to cultivate a void, a nothing space, and indulge in my old familiar lonesomeness again, my own internal space, and allow this new self to introduce themselves to my old headspace.
Thirdly: emotions flip from hyperexcited to hyperanxious when I’m in this state. The first is almost euphoric, but the second is an engulfing nightmare. Any extreme is always followed by its counterpart. Either you have both or none. While I’m capable of managing the negative, I am happy to have both rather than neither.